update deskSchools & Higher Education

Citing ‘safety’ after ‘careful consideration,’ USC nixes valedictorian speech 

The university’s scheduled student speaker has posted antisemitic content on social media, the End Jew Hatred Movement says.

A gate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Credit: Hanson L./Shutterstock.
A gate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Credit: Hanson L./Shutterstock.

Following the revelation that its scheduled valedictorian student speaker had made antisemitic comments on social media, the University of Southern California opted to have no student speaker at its graduation ceremony.

“Unfortunately, over the past several days, discussion relating to the selection of our valedictorian has taken on an alarming tenor,” Andrew Guzman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, wrote to the USC community on April 15.

“The intensity of feelings, fueled by both social media and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, has grown to include many voices outside of USC and has escalated to the point of creating substantial risks relating to security and disruption at commencement,” he said.

“After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement,” the provost added. “While this is disappointing, tradition must give way to safety. This decision is not only necessary to maintain the safety of our campus and students, but is consistent with the fundamental legal obligation—including the expectations of federal regulators—that universities act to protect students and keep our campus community safe.”

Guzman added that the provost’s office “manages” the process of choosing the valedictorian and appoints a faculty selection committee.

“This year the committee evaluated nearly 100 applications submitted from among the more than 200 graduating seniors who qualified for consideration based on their GPAs,” Guzman said. “The committee assessed each application based on various criteria—which did not include social media presence—and made a recommendation to me. Based on these faculty recommendations, I made the final decision.”

The End Jew Hatred Movement sent a letter to USC administrators on April 12 noting antisemitic social media posts from Asna Tabassum, the USC valedictorian.

“Commencement ceremonies should be a moment of pride for graduating students and their families, not an opportunity for a speaker to spread Jew-hatred,” Gerard Filitti, senior counsel at the Lawfare Project, told JNS on behalf of the movement.

“USC did the right thing, both morally and legally, to disallow Ms. Tabassum a platform to spread the same kind of vitriol linked on her social-media account,” Filitti said.

Filitti told JNS that the provost’s statement announcing the cancellation “needs to be commended for recognizing the very real safety concerns of Jewish college students at USC and across the country who are constantly exposed to venomous antisemitism, calls for genocide, disruption of classes and activities, and even physical violence, perpetrated by radical Jew-haters and Hamas apologists who cloak themselves as pro-Palestinian activists.”

The provost’s statement did not appear to specify exactly who was unsafe from real or perceived threats.

Filitti told JNS that the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized the USC decision.

It is disappointing that some groups are “trying to distort reality and play victim when the simple, sad truth is that it is Jewish students who have been repeatedly victimized by antisemitism and are unsafe on college campuses,” Filitti said.

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